In Profile: Seth Medalie

Fruition

by Carolyn Ellis

Ms. Ellis is Features Editor for Advisor Magazine. Visit www.lifehealth.com

In January 2016 The Bulfinch Group, a financial services and investment firm headquartered in Needham, Mass., completed the acquisition of Wellesley Financial Group, another Guardian brokerage agency located nearby in Wellesley, Mass. We spoke with Bulfinch founder and president Seth Medalie about values shared with WFG principal and Guardian general agent Richard L. Poitras, CLU, ChFC, the successful merger of friendly-competitor agencies and current trends in distribution.

Advisor Mag: How is this acquisition working for you and for those you acquired?
SM: For us, it was an opportunity to add a lot of great talent and to expand some of the departments in our organization to have more depth. We’ve been going through a process of cross-training in our organization for the last couple of years, and in some areas where we were a bit short we now have enough people.

The people from Wellesley Financial Group might have had some initial trepidation, which you always have when you’re merging into another organization. I think now they appreciate the additional resources in our organization, and they’re really starting to take advantage of those resources.

Advisor Mag: Did you consolidate the offices?
SM: Our offices were three miles apart, so we closed the Wellesley Financial Group office and moved everybody. The nice thing is we had a long runway.

Dick Poitras and I started our conversations early in 2015, so we had nine or ten months to do this the right way. We moved most people to our main office in Needham, and we’re housing some who were down on the South Shore in our Rockland, Mass. office.

We’ve done mergers/acquisitions before, but the beauty of this one is that culturally our two organizations were so well aligned that this merger is as close to seamless as it could be.

Advisor Mag: Were you and Dick friendly competitors?
SM: I’ve always had a very deep respect for Dick Poitras. I think it’s mutual. We’ve talked about merging over the years, but this just made total sense. Dick was ready to retire. He really cares about the people in his organization, and he wanted to make sure they were taken care of. I think that he realized in the long term it would be much better for his people to come into our organization and share the resources we have.

Advisor Mag: How many people are we talking about in your organization?
SM: We brought in about 35 people, and we’re adding to them about a hundred and twenty-five. We have a phenomenal VP of Operations, Don Gilmore, who took care of every single detail of bringing them over, including the technology piece. Wellesley Financial Group shut down on a Friday, and on the following Monday their staff moved in, with phones working and offices ready. They were up and running.

Advisor Mag: How many times before have you done a merger?
SM: In the last 15 years there have been two other major ones.

Our industry goes through cycles of expansion and contraction like every other industry. Right now we’re in more of a consolidation mode

Advisor Mag: How does this acquisition address changes or trends in the market place? Would you say you’re leading or responding?
SM: Our industry goes through cycles of expansion and contraction like every other industry. Right now we’re in more of a consolidation mode. Many companies are recognizing that you need resources to compete in this marketplace where there are more organizations fighting for the same dollar. There is clearly an advantage to having more resources and being larger.

Advisor Mag: Does this acquisition bring you to a higher order of magnitude?
SM:It just makes us stronger from a talent standpoint and from a resources standpoint. When you have a merger like this, it gives you an opportunity, as described in Jim Collins’s book Good to Great, to take a look at not only do we have the right people on the bus, but are they in the right seats?

Advisor Mag: You sound pretty energized.
SM: I’m passionate about our organization. We don’t need to be the largest; we want to be known as the best at what we do and the most respected financial services firm in New England. When you have the opportunity to bring in great people, who from a cultural and a value standpoint are very simpatico, it’s exciting. For Dick Poitras, business starts with the client and ends with the client. We have a saying, “There’s no right way to do a wrong thing.” Our excellent alignment starts, I think, with our leadership.

Advisor Mag: Does this merger bring new capabilities, product lines, or areas of emphasis?
SM:Here’s an example. One of our division companies is Bulfinch Benefits. Wellesley Financial did not have an employee benefits company. They have people who have been heavily involved in the business marketplace but have really never been in the benefits world.

The merger creates a great opportunity for them to approach corporate clients for whom they might have done buy/sell agreements or key person policies. At Bulfinch for many years, our business has been diversified among protection, wealth management and benefits. At Wellesley Financial it was really two pieces; this is a nice third piece that’s been added.

Advisor Mag: How did you chose the name Bulfinch?
SM: For the first eleven years of my career I worked for Northwestern Mutual. When they wanted me to come to the home office in Milwaukee, I decided not to move. Guardian offered me the chance to start a Boston general agency, and I needed a name. I had been working in downtown Boston at One Bulfinch Place and that resonated with me, so we called it The Bulfinch Group.

Advisor Mag: It’s very Boston. Getting back to the merger, this must have been a great opportunity for Dick Poitras because successful succession is an agent’s real dilemma.
SM: Dick and I had talked a number of times over the years, but when we finally sat down it took us about 45 minutes to come to an agreement because we think so similarly. From the beginning his number one issue was, “Please take care of my people.” Every person in his organization had an opportunity to join Bulfinch and almost every single one did. With the talented, enthusiastic people that we brought over from Wellesley Financial, I can’t wait to see where we’re going to be one year, three years, and five years from now.◊